That second matter is a point that could stand elaboration. On the strength of this sharp, inspirational piece, we hope that...

VERY GOOD LIVES

THE FRINGE BENEFITS OF FAILURE AND THE IMPORTANCE OF IMAGINATION

Harry Potter’s creator faces a crowd of uber-Muggles—the graduating class of Harvard University—whom she enjoins to stretch their minds and be awesome.

Today, Rowling (The Casual Vacancy, 2012, etc.) is massively wealthy, but that wasn’t the case a quarter-century ago, when she was “as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain without being homeless.” That condition might have been an I-told-you-so moment for the parents who worried that by pursuing a degree in classics she was setting herself up for penury. “Of all the subjects on this planet,” she writes, “I think they would have been hard put to name one less useful than Greek mythology when it came to securing the keys to an executive bathroom.” Instead, she tells her eager audience, it was a wake-up call: she had failed dramatically, and about the only place to go was up, which is, after all, the lesson one hopes to learn from failure. The classics prove steadfast companions in this brief volume. Though she’s best known for a few Latin taglines by way of magical spells, Rowling makes neat connections between the challenges of modern life and the tutelary examples of Seneca, Plutarch, and the other ancients. While she discounts the ennobling aspects of poverty and misery, it’s also clear that her education provided her with some steel to face those hardships. The author’s quiet praise of liberal education forms one theme. A second, the importance of the imagination, is perhaps the more expected one, but Rowling takes a nicely unsettling detour by recounting her time spent working for Amnesty International and witnessing how monstrous people can be. The unimaginative, she ventures, are more afraid of the world than the imaginative and in turn, “enable real monsters.”

That second matter is a point that could stand elaboration. On the strength of this sharp, inspirational piece, we hope that Rowling will add a book of essays to her CV.

Pub Date: April 14, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-316-36915-2

Page Count: 80

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: April 11, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2015

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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The Stoics did much better with the much shorter Enchiridion.

THE LAWS OF HUMAN NATURE

A follow-on to the author’s garbled but popular 48 Laws of Power, promising that readers will learn how to win friends and influence people, to say nothing of outfoxing all those “toxic types” out in the world.

Greene (Mastery, 2012, etc.) begins with a big sell, averring that his book “is designed to immerse you in all aspects of human behavior and illuminate its root causes.” To gauge by this fat compendium, human behavior is mostly rotten, a presumption that fits with the author’s neo-Machiavellian program of self-validation and eventual strategic supremacy. The author works to formula: First, state a “law,” such as “confront your dark side” or “know your limits,” the latter of which seems pale compared to the Delphic oracle’s “nothing in excess.” Next, elaborate on that law with what might seem to be as plain as day: “Losing contact with reality, we make irrational decisions. That is why our success often does not last.” One imagines there might be other reasons for the evanescence of glory, but there you go. Finally, spin out a long tutelary yarn, seemingly the longer the better, to shore up the truism—in this case, the cometary rise and fall of one-time Disney CEO Michael Eisner, with the warning, “his fate could easily be yours, albeit most likely on a smaller scale,” which ranks right up there with the fortuneteller’s “I sense that someone you know has died" in orders of probability. It’s enough to inspire a new law: Beware of those who spend too much time telling you what you already know, even when it’s dressed up in fresh-sounding terms. “Continually mix the visceral with the analytic” is the language of a consultant’s report, more important-sounding than “go with your gut but use your head, too.”

The Stoics did much better with the much shorter Enchiridion.

Pub Date: Oct. 23, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-42814-5

Page Count: 580

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2018

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